Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Last month, my four year old son celebrated his fifth birthday. We threw a party in his local sports centre to celebrate the event. For weeks the preparation consumed our waking hours. We planned and worried about numbers, whether we should invite children from his school or past nursery, how many family members should come, and if, after all the effort and sweat and tears, our little bundle of energy would love or loathe his special day ? At times we wondered why we were even throwing a party. Maybe he was still young enough not to have any expectations ? We had sneakily managed to get away without throwing a party for the last three years, why break the habit now ?
But as any parent will tell you, there is something special about the number five. In children, it signals the end of the baby and toddler years. No longer can I call my son a toddler or a pre-schooler. I can't smile adoringly any more at strangers when he throws down the mother of all tantrums in my local supermarket, or shrieks his head off on the bus. From now on he'll be seen as a child not an infant. In short, he's reached a milestone birthday.
In the world of some cancers, the fifth year is also a milestone. It's the time when you can take a sharp intake of breath and tell yourself that if the statistics are correct, you've managed to beat the disease and can now possibly look forward to a long and healthy life. I'm not actually sure which cancer this applies to since I've only ever heard about the legendary 'all-clear' in films and on TV. And we know that breast cancer doesn't easily fit in any category. But still, there is something magical about reaching year five with any metastatic cancer. Not only have I managed to beat a retrospective statistic which gave me on average a survival period of two years, I have remained healthy and have had the luxury of being able to live a normal, stressed-out life; just like everyone else.
A few weeks ago, I sat in the clinic of the same hospital in London where I come every three months to find out if I am still in remission. It's never easy being able to casually while away the hours when I see others being wheeled into the room in wheelchairs, adjusting their nylon scarves that cling stubbornly to their balding scalps. It is never easy to watch women younger than me walking with a stick or being helped into their seats by their husbands. But this time round, there was much to smile about. A day after my 46th birthday, I sat in a chair in the office of my consultant (who I've known for so long now that whenever we meet, we exchange info on the progress of our children) as she happily gave me another good scan result. With almost tears in her eyes she recounted her experience at a conference recently where she used me as an example of a 'thriving' patient. I tell her that I often feel tired and fatigued, not thriving - but happy to remain on the medication regardless of the side-effects, for as long as I can. I almost hug her as I leave.
Five years of doctors' appointments, treatments, drug prescriptions, injections, vitamin supplements and the occasional bouts of anxiety as I mentally drift between the time zones of past, present and future. It's certainly been one mother of a roller coaster of a journey. Here's to the next five.